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Frame ZeroTeaching what has to be done before frame one.

Global Cinematographer Institute Teachers Gathered Together
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A New Teaching Opportunity Emerges

Nearly a year ago, some members of the Previsualization Society and I were invited to present a technical brief on the previsualization process to an international gathering of cinematographers at the American Society of Cinematographers clubhouse in Los Angeles. Needless to say, I was very excited about this prospect because cinematographers as a whole have been somewhat resistant to the previs message. Its not too surprising. This is a very traditional group of professionals with a history that spans back to the formation of the art itself. Change is calculated and new processes and techniques that could alter the state of cinematography are thoroughly examined before ever mainlined into the craft. Why should an evaluation of our previs information be any different?

As we proceeded to layout our information, I could sense a growing restlessness in the room. Something was off and when we came to one particular slide in our presentation, the room essentially divided. This slide was never intended to depict hierarchy or departmental importance, but it was immediately interpreted as such. The slide depicted all the various departments of a film production (including the director, vfx, and camera) around a central "previs department" hub routing info to editorial. The idea was to suggest that previs could act as a central core to a live action production by becoming a digital content nexus for data, communication and shot production. It was a simple depiction but quite frankly I believe it makes sense.

Live action films, particularly VFX heavy tent pole type movies are becoming more and more animation like in their approach to film production due to a greater dependence on motion capture, animated characters and digital environments within their scenes. Within traditional animated films, the layout department acts as the central hub of production by routing shots in and out to other departments as the film progresses. Layout is tied directly to editorial who in turn is in constant contact with the story department. These three departments work in harmony to craft the final product.

Within live action, the workflow is more convoluted and definitely not as harmonious. For many years, live action directors had to improvise solutions to plan and block difficult sequences because they didn't have a dedicated story or layout department of their own. Taking a que from animated films storyboarding came to the rescue, but as films became more digital and visually complicated, something more sophisticated was required. Previs is a direct result of that evolution. Today CG artists with computers can recreate any number of conditions that can allow directors rapid access to the beginnings of the visual narrative without having to wait. In an additional plus, when previs effectively integrates with editorial in live action preproduction it becomes an extremely powerful solution to conceptualize an entire film before its even shot. Modern films like Real Steal and Tin Tin are proving this concept quite effectively.

So why the division amongst the cinematographers? Some were pro previs, others definitely were not.

Cinematographers are artists. Plain and simple. Not only that, they're one of three primary visionaries that influence a film's destination. They are charged with establishing the visual narrative of a film through a series of artistic, photographic tools. As an artist, the cinematographer works with the director to visualize the written narrative supplied by the scriptwriter, while the director effectively marries the those two narratives into a cohesive production fueled by his overall vision for the film. Its this collaboration between scriptwriter, cinematographer and director that captures lighting in a bottle.

If you re-read that last paragraph more carefully, you'll see the foundational problem a number of cinematographers have with previsualization. Its not that they think previs isn't helpful from its technical potential to solve problems, but rather the conflict lies with the previs department being hired by production to help the director conceptualize a potential visual narrative. Here lies the real source of tension.

The evolution of previs is a natural by-product of a studio system that places extreme demands on its directors while also pressing the agenda to save money. Cinematographers and editors in preproduction seems like an extreme expense to most studio executives, so when lower cost CG artists stepped up to meet the needs of the director, the idea fit but it came at the cost of diminishing the cinematographer's role.

Yuri Neyman ASC, one of the cinematographers present that day of the presentation, sees this conflict and has decided to do something about it. He is a strong supporter of the previs process and he contacted me to help him conceptualize the idea of a new cinematography school dedicated to teaching new techniques and technologies like previs to potential and professional cinematographers. If cinematography is to evolve, understanding these digital workflows is essential. Since then he has gathered quite a contingent of professionals along with Vilmos Zsigmond ASC as chairman of the board and the Global Cinematography Institute was born.

Ultimately I'm very honored to be collaborating with such distinguished company. I believe schools like GCI are critical to future filmmakers and I wish GCI the best of luck. I look forward to supplying previs classes to its talented student body.

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Wandering in the Wilderness

It certainly has been quite a while since I posted anything to my site. Quite a bit of change has been going on in my life. By now, its probably well known that I'm no longer a co-owner of POV Previs. It was a good run, but the transition was quite stressful and the integration into my new job has demanded a considerable amount of my time. Major life changes have a tendency to overwhelm folks and their resources and I was no exception.

Since joining Autodesk, I've been traveling quite often to Toronto, Montreal and San Francisco. We have large facilities in each city and I've been going through a lot of various training events and seminars along with being assigned to some really cool initiatives that should redefine the way animation and vfx professionals approach their work. Of course these things are confidential, so I'm afraid that I can't discuss them yet... but one day we'll all be talking about them.

Its my goal to get back involved with my journaling life along with reenergizing my own personal projects. I have several activities I'm involved with and I plan to report on them too. Overall I'm excited. Things are finally stabilizing, I feel confident, and life is good. So here's to the future.

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AWN: Examining the VES Open Letter

Recently, the Executive Director of the VES delivered an open letter to the VFX community describing what he believes are a number of issues currently facing the VFX industry. The letter was passionate, but is his approach to the issue of globalization potentially damaging? Check out my blog entry over at AWN.

Examining the VES Open Letter

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AWN: Upgrading your Previs Workstation

Every so many years, a previs artist has to evaluate the equipment he’s working on. Moore’s law and the computer industry will pretty much ensure that your hardware will rapidly become obsolete. In mere months, the powerful workstation you were so proud of when you first put your rig together now looks long in the tooth and woefully underpowered.

What should a previs artist be concerned about when considering his/her next rig? Join me as I take a quick look some general guidelines previs artists should consider when upgrading their hardware.

Upgrading your Previs Workstation
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AWN: The Call for Cinematography

With the advent of virtual production making its way into modern filmmaking and the maturity of previsualization as a planning process, the need for cinematographers to participate in the pre-production process is even greater than before. Read my article on AWN for a detailed breakdown of my thoughts on the subject.


The Call for Cinematography
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OSU-ACCAD Training

April 29th and the 30th proved to be eventful days at the ACCAD facility in Ohio State University. ACCAD stands for the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I was invited to teach a two day "exposure" class on previsualization to a group of ten Master and Ph.D. level students each working on their individual theses.

Maria Palazzi, the director of ACCAD, was a gracious host and her level of involvement within the facility was apparent. The students were very enthusiastic, but I only wished we had more than the two days for this course. Many of these students have not been exposed to previs, so a lot of base level information was required before we could proceed into creating some shots. Thankfully the students were well versed in Maya which made my job easier.

For myself, I've determined its definitely time to upgrade my course materials. I've been busy working on new curriculum and this class proved to me that my new stuff will be a welcomed addition. More on that upcoming curriculum soon.

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AWN: Silverdraft-MobileViz

Read all about my first look at Silverdraft's MobileViz on AWN. This 18 wheeler packs quite the computational punch.
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Idea Pioneers Blog Launched

As a means to increase my blog's exposure, I've collaborated with the Animation World Network to create "Idea Pioneers - The Practice of Previs" . This particular blog will be independent from my homepage blog here on brianpohl.com. It will start as a bi-weekly column (though I might write more than that) to express views and insights on previsualization and other filmmaking tips, tricks and advice. AWN has thousands of readers, so I think the extra exposure will prove beneficial. All of this is a new directive to myself to increase my marketability and networking footprint. I have a lot of plans to get the previs word out there and this is only step one of the process.

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Reflections on SIRT Conference

A recent opportunity allowed me to make new friends up in the Toronto area. Sheridan College and the SIRT Centre (Screen Industries Research and Training Centre) invited me to represent the Previsualization Society and speak on its educational mandate. In addition to my talk on the types of previsualization, I participated on a panel discussing the interaction between previsualization artists and the rest of the production crew. Two other Society representatives were present. Ron Frankel from Proof gave an interesting talk on his experiences with the Previzion system from Lightcraft and David Morin supplied his usual speaking sophistication to the event's keynote lecture.

The event was held in the Pinewood Toronto Studios facility. John Helliker and his team did a tremendous job of transforming one of Pinewood's sound stages for the event. The space was nicely divided up into a lounge space, vendor booth areas, a motion capture volume, and the main speaking stage.

Viacon Mocap Volume

There was a great array of speakers. I particularly enjoyed Parag Havaldar's overview of Sony's virtual production pipeline. Starz Animation's Rob Burton gave us a sneak peak at his company's live action / CG hybrid production Lovebirds, and the various motion capture demonstrations showing the value of virtual cinematography were presented by Jimmy Corvan (Viacon), Jarrod Kozeal (Vicon), Jeff Beavers, Rob Aitchison (Autodesk) and Brian Gedge.

Events like these are very important. Not only are they a venue for new technologies and production techniques, but they also play a critical role in emphasizing the value previsualization provides to any production. Previsualization not only provides effective planning and conceptual sequence design to large scale vfx films, but it also seems to awaken the sleeping director within. So many people seem to instinctively gravitate towards previs because previs is at a stage where it can act as a doorway to those wishing to break into the film, game and television industries. In other words, previs makes the idea of filmmaking accessible to all. This is being further emphasized and reinforced by the advent of Virtual Production. Granted, films like Avatar give the impression that Virtual Production and previs is only a game for the financially equipped, but I would suggest otherwise. People see the potential of these technologies and techniques and want a piece of the action. I intend to expand on the differences between these to disciplines in another blog post.

CN Tower

After the event on Thursday, a group of us went out to dinner. Being in Toronto, we came to the quick conclusion that a trip up the CN Tower was in order. This is quite a structure and the views were spectacular. I must admit that the "revolving" aspect of the restaurant at 1500 to 1600 feet left a little bit to be desired, but the food was fantastic. Thank you to all who participated, particularly those who picked up the tab.

View from the CN Tower

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Beautiful Singapore

Singapore is really beautiful...not to mention really, really warm. Why didn't I realize that its only a few degrees off the equator? I can't imagine what it would be like living there in the heat of true summer. For the locals, its all taken in stride. I however broke out in heat rash.

I traveled over to this wonderful city to teach a 2 day master class at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. By Singapore's standards a polytechnic isn't a junior college and its not really a full university either. Essentially its a private preparatory school designed to prepare students for going to a university.

Ngee Ann's curriculum is diverse and they've taken upon themselves to provide Singapore with a very comprehensive computer graphics and animation program. A smart move when you consider Singapore's ability to attract companies like ILM and Double Negative to set up shop a few miles away.

The class was divided into two days. The first day was for a comprehensive set of lectures between Rob Dressel (Disney), Hock Hian Wong (Dreamworks) and myself. Both Rob and Hock work as senior layout artists, a field closely related to previs. The second day was a dedicated class where I presented a concentrated, but abbreviated version of my 10 week Gnomon class here in LA.

Overall, I thought it went well. I could have used a third day due to time constraints. Its difficult to cram so much information into such a short period of time. Thankfully we did get a day or two to sight see. Saw some cool religious temples and here are a few pictures of the Singapore Flyer, Singapore's skyline and some colorful birds from the Jurong Bird Park for your viewing pleasure.


Downtown


Up in the Flyer

Jurong Bird Park
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